As we kick start the second quarter of 2021 AND start to see that sweet, sweet light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, I can’t think of a better time to start a conversation about goal setting, visualizing your best life, and conceptualizing your ‘big picture.’ If you’ve been here a while you’ll know I love a good conversation about goal-setting so pull up a chair! This is a really, really long post.
For starters! Why are goals important? Well, to be clear, the word ‘goals’ doesn’t even feel like the right word to use in the context I’m about to talk about. ‘Goals’ feel superficial and fluffy to me. Like the things you unwillingly say you’re going to do every year on January 1st but then forget about by February because these very goals just aren’t connected with anything. Those type of goals are frustrating and empty, and really are what give goal-setting such a bad reputation! But I’m here to tell you goal-setting, when done in a thoughtful and intentional way, can be the most life-giving and rewarding process. And can unsurprisingly help you milk out every last morsel of goodness this one life has to offer.
This post is LONG and full. But I want to be transparent in my process because I get asked about it a lot it, and especially so when I talk about my penchant for my poster board lists! What I’m about to share is how I do things in a way that works for me. My hope isn’t to cause you stress or doubt with how you set goals and plan for your best future, but to inspire potential new approaches and considerations as you soldier on in life.
Ready? Let’s do this.
WHERE I START
In December of each year, I start my goal planning process by diving into my PowerSheets. I’ve been a PowerSheets user for years now and wrote a lot more about this over here in this post. I’m very disciplined with both the process of goal setting AND actively working towards those very goals but it’s the getting started part that STILL feels the hardest to me. I know the process takes time so I sometimes hesitate just starting! Thankfully, PowerSheets makes it easy and inspiring to guide me through the deep work required to uncover good, meaningful, and intentional goals. This work includes answering questions like:
• What worked over the last year?
• What didn’t work over the last year?
• Who am I grateful for and why?
• What am I celebrating from the last year?
• What identity box am I breaking free from?
• What lessons did I learn last year?
• Who do I want to be?
• Where do I want to be when I’m 80?
There’s SO much more work than I’m alluding to here but what’s magical is as you go through this work, bit by bit and page by page (there are many pages!) you start to uncover tiny repetitive threads – things, people, ideas, concepts, and experiences that all connect together and are exclusive to you! These very threads are where your goals are born and when you start to see this come together before your eyes? It’s pretty cool.
TURNING COMMON THREADS INTO FOUR YEARLY GOALS
Ok so after I’ve done all of the PowerSheeet prep work I close my PowerSheets book for a bit and do things my own Rhi way. And this is where it gets really fun and I start to see how the year ahead can be full of truly good things that matter most to me.
I pull out a big piece of white poster board and grab a black Sharpie pen. Then I get down on the floor where I can stretch out my legs, get close to the paper, and really just dump out my thoughts freely and unrestricted onto the poster board. Meaning yes, I just write out thoughts and epiphanies and things that I’m thinking and feeling onto the poster board. And in making this brain dump of ‘threads’ that often connect, I try to find FOUR ways my ‘threads’ connect together, with the motivation that the four connectors translate into goals that will point toward my bigger picture. Read that sentence again! I try to find FOUR ways my ‘threads’ connect together, with the motivation that the four connectors translate into goals that will point toward my bigger picture. These four goals, which more than often are habit-forming goals relating to my lifestyle, family, and character, then become part of my guiding light for the year
I have to note here that without a clear big picture, this part of the process would feel fruitless and difficult. I think of it this way: if I don’t know my heart, where I want to be in 5 or 10 or 25 years, what is important to me, what my character is, or what I need to survive AND thrive now, how can I possibly map out the next 12 months in a way that points me, in the VERY LEAST, in the right direction? I don’t think I could. My goals would likely fail. And maybe this is where you’ve been before, too. It’s so critical that before any goals are set you need to think about where you want to end up so you can plan accordingly to start heading out in that direction.
My goal with the poster board isn’t to have a perfect diagram of ideas and goals. I actually purposefully use a Sharpie pen because in the past I’ve used pencils only and this was always a way to protect myself from mistakes. But I’ve learned that with the black and VERY permanent Sharpie pens I can get messy and get productive with my thoughts – all very necessary in my process! I also keep my calendar by my side so I can be cognizant of events and commitments I have planned, or hope to have scheduled, for the next year as our goals are often motivated by things we’re committed to with our time. In the past these commitments have included holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, new babies and surgeries, professional launches and client commitments, travel dates, vacations, and weddings, as well as one-time milestones like a vow renewal, or coming up on the docket, our first born heading to kindergarten!
STICK WITH ME.
So let me give you an example here.
One big 2020 goal I set pre-COVID was to spearhead our family into becoming nature lovers and hopefully to savor a more simple flow of life. When the world shut down at the end of March last year because of COVID we really didn’t have much of a choice but to embrace being outside or risk going crazy inside, which sort of forced me to lean into that nature-centric goal in a way I may not have otherwise. But knowing how big of a blessing this outdoor time was in 2020 and more deeply, how special it was to move at a slower pace with my kids by my side, I jotted down things on my 2021 common threads brain dump board like, ‘nature time,’ ‘summer out of school with the boys,’ ‘the fort’, ‘our garden’ and ‘being active’. A lot of these things were actually ON the pages of my PowerSheets in the prep work section already. They were good things from 2020 that stemmed from a previous goal set in 2020. And good things I wanted more of in 2021. So how do they come together? Let’s see. . . nature, the woods, being outside, growing things, flowers, beauty, curiosity, summer in Michigan, being active and getting physical, kids home for the summer, brothers playing together, fleeting childhoods: these things REALLY do go together quite well. And this is a sign for me to then MAKE this connection into a goal! Which for 2021, specifically became ‘Further refining my schedule’. Vague? Stick with me for the final part of this process!
When I was planning my 2021 goals I knew (hoped) that the world would start to open back up by second or third quarter but I also knew my professional goals were bigger than the ones I set the year prior and would likely require more focus and time to achieve them. So, in order to 1) transition back into a schedule and routine that isn’t so restrictive compared to a year ago, 2) put in the work to reach my professional goals, AND 3) carry over the slower pace of 2020 that I loved and allowed me to grow closer to my children while embracing nature more, it was glaringly obvious this battle was going to come down to how I schedule my time. Which meant REFINING my schedule had to be my TOP priority for this year. And if you read this post you’ll recall this as my first goal for the year!
The obvious goal here may have been, ‘to love nature more,’ ‘to get outside three times a week,’ or ‘spend more time with my kids.’ And those are all really good goals. BUT the underlying goal here for me is to make these things and the others that come with it, undeniably EASY to do. I need the hard thing, for me, which is fitting my puzzle pieces together, to be the goal to work toward because once I’ve figured that out? It’s forts in the woods, slow summer afternoons, and LEGO parties on the deck with popsicle kisses and s’mores coated cheeks until the sun fades into the orange and pink summer sky.
MY WORD OF THE YEAR
Coming up with a word to set the pace for the year is a fun tradition I’ve kept over the years. Last year my word was ‘Delight’ and that word permeated so much of my life and our home even in a pandemic and year of unknowns. Truly. This year I’m marching to the beat of ‘Adventure’ and you’re probably asking yourself how I settle on these words. I’ll give you one guess: common threads!
In the poster board phase where I’m jotting down all of the common threads from my prep work, referencing my calendar for upcoming commitments, and also considering a little room for unexpected magic, I think about fitting adjectives. Or I try to listen to my gut and see if it’s got anything to say. Is my spirit feeling brave and confident? Am I coming off a hard season and need to rest and recover? Are there commitments ahead on my schedule that will require stamina and sacrifice, like a new business or baby? What’s the chorus line of the year ahead, and again, when looking at these common threads, how can I describe them in just one word?
This part is always really fun for me. Sometimes the right word just POPS off of the page and the only confirmation I need is the feeling in my stomach telling me that it fits. Last fall when I was starting to think about 2021 I realized there were a lot of transitions, unknowns, and big dreams on the horizon but also, this great internal desire to still stay small, simple, and humble. I knew this felt like I was going to shoot for two opposite ends of a spectrum but I also knew this didn’t mean it was impossible to make it happen. All I could say to myself as I processed this conundrum was, ‘I’m not sure how you’re going to do it but it sounds like an adventure, Rhi!’. And as I tossed the word around and paired it together with my hopes, dreams, fears, insecurities, desires, and unmade decisions for 2021 and beyond, ‘Adventure’ felt so fitting! It’s the only word actually, that I felt confident enough to live by given what I hope for over the next 12 months, and what these months will ultimately led to in next chapters of life.
FOUR YEARLY GOALS & MORE POSTER BOARD
One of the final pieces of the puzzle, and yet another way I use my trusty poster board, is to take all of the above – my common threads, PowerSheets prep work, word of the year, and upcoming schedule – to then form my quarterly goals. As you can see in some of the photos here I split my poster board into four quadrants, each section divided by a line. In the center is where I put my word of the year as a reminder that these goals are going to be motivated by it. I title each quadrant with ‘1st quarter, 2nd quarter’ and so on, and then jot down each one of my four overarching yearly goals into each corner or section. Then again, using my calendar as a guide, I jot down tangible mini goals that make sense per quarter. Sometimes the mini goals are more like to-do items, sometimes they are milestones I don’t need poster board to remember them by, but mot of the time they are unique-to-me, adequately scheduled, GOOD mini-goals that move me along according to my big picture to help me achieve my four yearly goals. And sometimes these goals are simple reminders or nudges that I need to take further action on something outside of both the poster board and my PowerSheets book.
I tape this board to a wall in my studio with painters tape to protect the paint on our walls, and then it gets moved around as needed over the year. Sometimes putting the board in a new place gives me new inspiration as the year passes by and seasons change. As I reach and achieve mini goals, I strike through them with my Sharpie. And if I start to feel like the list is too much like a collection of to-do’s, then I open my PowerSheets, reference my prep work and big picture, and immediately am reminded WHY I set the goals I did OR am clearly able to see what sub-goals may need to change for whatever reason. And that’s so key in this process! Being flexible, knowing some goals may be boring or tedious, and also knowing some goals are habit-forming goals instead of milestone goals (e.g. a goal of waking up at 6:00 am everyday to create a better morning routine versus finally taking that dream vacation) is also crucial. The process of making and going after goals isn’t always the most thrilling adventure but the life that’s lived as a result of this effort is undoubtedly worth it.
One final note, as someone who fully supports the notion of doing whats best for you and not her (*points and waves to friend over there*), my process is what I’ve found has worked most beautifully for me and yields the most successful goals in my adult goal-setting life. Monthly check lists, the weekly/ daily tending lists within PowerSheets, accountability groups, blogging my goals every month – these things have never been very helpful for me and so I’ve let them go in the last couple years, choosing instead to focus on the parts of the process that DO help! This is OK! Goal-setting isn’t a science but truly an art and so I encourage you to just start somewhere and be flexible along the way as you make the process your own.
PHEW! If there are questions drop them below! I’d love to hear from you!